Audio Report: oh, oh, oh, it’s magic

Sorry for the delay. We may or may not have a show next week, but this one recorded last week has plenty to chew on, including the long-promised “Magic rant.” I don’t know why I keep saying “for the weekend of” at the top of the show because they’re never done by then.

The question put to you, dear listeners: how did you get into gaming (the short version, please), and is that entryway still there for people today?


  1. I was introduced to gaming by a German mate who brought over his copy of Settlers of Catan. Upon showing interest, he mailed me over a copy (KOSMOS edition, not Mayfair). I bought a couple of extra games at a local store (Puerto Rico and Citadels – both fairly good (uninformed) decisions), then discovered and have been spending too much cash ever since…

    Also, there was a brief mention of Netrunner in the show. I was introduced to Netrunner just this year by members of (its the highest rated CCg there). I really wish that game was still in print, or didn’t fetch such high prices on ebay. 😉

  2. I believe no longer does Netrunner due to legal threats from WotC. Which is pretty crazy.

  3. Anyone here a Joseph Campbell fan? The late myth scholar who attests that our culture, currently, is a demythologized one. He’d probably say that the best entry point for gamers are early, positive experiences with a game that allows for the players to learn something about themselves and their relationship to the world around them. (You know, the same thing myths do)

    How do games do that? I think it comes with, of course, the imagination, and with an abstract quality inherent in the game that lets kids see themselves as part of it.

    Abstract toys and games, like Settlers, like LEGO, like role-playing, can do this easier than games like, say, Warhammer, where things are more strongly defined. (I’d also say that Warhammer type games make up for this in the element of the painting – a “ritual” that lets the painter take the role of creator. But I’ll stop with the myth-speak)

    How do video games play into this idea? CCG’s? Don’t know…somebody help me out. Shoot me down, or give me a witness. I can’t articulate this morning.

  4. The summer after 7th grade, I went to a computer camp, where I _heard_ that kids were playing this D&D thing, and someone described it to me, but I never got invited to play. I was a nerd among nerds.

    So I went home to my small town, found Basic D&D (Erol Otis cover, 1981) in the Sears catalog and ordered it from the local catalog center. (It was so small, it stocked only a few appliances… you had to order everything else.)

    I taught my brother, some friends and myself how to play and Keep On the Borderlands was our first adventure. We got hooked, and I bought the Expert set, and then started in on AD&D, which I found at a couple stores in Hays, 30 miles away, when I started driving. One of them was a department store, like Alco.

    So in a way, no… the avenue I used isn’t quite available anymore. You can’t find roleplaying games in the Sears Wish Book, *-Mart or small book stores in small towns any more. You can find them at Borders and Barnes and Nobel, but you don’t find those in small towns. It’s kind of weird how D&D have _lost_ penetration in the mass-market retail outlets.

  5. Good day.

    In the early nineties a cousin’s classmate invited to play a “game” about Robotech (I was a fan at the time). It was the old Palladium game and it went ok; I don’t think I got hooked that time but they were a nice group so I kept playing with them AD&D, TMNT&OS and a bunch of others RPGs and boardgames. And still do.

    I used to introduce people to gaming through CCGs. I have a serious number of cards from the first an second generation games: Doomtrooper (my favorite), Magic, Blood Wars, OverPower, NetRunner, etc.

    Now, since CCGs are well known, I’m using RPGs. A demo with the usual pregen characters, an easy system (Savage Worlds generally) and a couple of easy to set-up boardgames and non-collectable card games like Pirateer and The Great Dalmuti.

    Tabletop gaming is all about people getting other people to play, and it’ll continue to be that way, mostly. There will always exist a few pioneering souls who’ll get into it on their own.

    My 0.02.

  6. Chris, Magic de facto does retire most of their older cards from the most popular tournament types. There are Type I and Extended, which feature many of the old cards, but standard constructed tournaments are done with the current core set, plus the last couple of expansions. So the standard constructed contents mean that cards older than a few sets back automatically age out of legal standard tournament play except as noted above in the alternative format tournaments.

    Block tournaments have even fewer sets allowed, and they are generally very new, easy to acquire sets.

    Also, draft and sealed deck tournaments are also popular, and those don’t require any card pool outside what is provided by the tournament. These formats require familiarity with card lists, but such card lists are readily available online.

    So, your rant that beginners can’t collect all the required cards is sort of falling on deaf ears, as you don’t have to have cards from the last 12 years to play in a standard tournaments.

    What can be said, however, is not that lack of older cards keep you out of the most common standard constructed tournaments, it is card rarity. If you invest $20.00 in cards for a constructed deck, chances are that the serious players have bought 3-4 booster boxes and have scads of powerful rares, keeping you out of the game. Most CCGs fall prey to this marketing strategy, and it makes CCGs real money games in many cases.

    While it would make publishers less money, I’d rather see powerful cards to be common and uncommon, and have rare cards simply be more esoteric or combo-oriented cards. This would allow people to buy into the game more cheaply.

    For people trying to play tournament Magic on a budget, draft and sealed deck are the only ways to go. Draft, however, is so complicated, that only a really savvy player can do well at it. This leaves beginners on a budget with only one real option: sealed deck.

    As for complexity of the cards and game, that rant is not falling on deaf ears. Magic’s only real beginner set was called Portal. It was a great beginner’s set, but I’m not certain that it sold well enough to warrant reprinting it.

    I think WotC’s real plan is not to create beginner’s set of Magic, but to introduce younger players to simpler card games and then encourage them to swap into Magic.

    Upper Deck’s “Vs. System” plays like Magic Light, and is definitely trying to attract players to it as an alternative to Magic.

    Lots of card games have this barrier to entry problem in terms of complexity. A lot of them have so called “quick start” rules that often don’t even cover all the situations you can get into with a pair of starters, making them a quick way to start play, but fundamentally, in the end, still tying you to much more complicated on-line rulebooks. The real comprehensive rules for Magic the Gathering look like over 100+ pages of rules organized like a tech manual, with no art, little white space, etc.

    A CCG I’m designing right now is suffering similar woes. With art stripped out, the rulebook is 50+ pages of 8.5″ x 11″ text. It is incredibly intimidating to neophyte CCG players. Hardcore players of Magic the Gathering, however, think that my game is actually simple and internally consistent compared to Magic the Gathering, showing you just how complicated Magic really is.

  7. As to how I got started in gaming — it was with a boxed game set from Sears called “Dungeon Dwellers”. It was a preprinted map, a set of miniatures, and a short set of rules. It was something like an early precursor to the Heroquest miniatures game. I had a blast playing it solo, painting the miniatures, etc.

    Around that exact time I found the 1st ed. AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide at a mainstream store (like a Wal-Mart). I had none of the other books, and I kept trying to tinker to figure out how D&D was played without a player’s handbook. I loved roleplaying. It stuck forever. And the fact that I had the DMG without the PHB made me a diehard tinkerer, because of those early experiences trying to design a game based on having only part of the rules.

    The most hobby-changing events for me, however, were the Ravenloft boxed set and the Ravenloft module. It made me want to run rules light and diceless games where I could get the rules out of the way of the horror. I helped found the first online Ravenloft GMs mailing list that lasted for a number of years.

  8. Re: CCG Workshop — some guys from the Forge, in particular, are designing games for CCG Workshop. The designer of Final Twilight has his niche market game in print, but he has taken it to PDF on RPGNOW, and then to CCGWorkshop. I expect to see that site become increasingly popular with Forge designers who have the time to design good games, but who don’t have the scads of money required to bring a game to the mass market.

    A stand-alone tool called Lackey CCG is a wonderful generic play tool that creates a virtual table top for almost any CCG you can imagine. I expect that in the next few years that is going to be a really popular CCG tool. It serves the same function as Magic Online for any CCG you provide card images for. I expect that in the next 10 years we’ll see an increase of game expansions for CCG Workshop and Lackey CCG, particularly from the Forge and other indy developers.

  9. Well thought through Lee, but I think everything you say about Magic Tournament play is true in terms of retiring cards, etc…where does the “always needing 8” fall into that? I personally think that is one of the strongest flaws in OP currently. I often get 7, and then we have to send one of my partners up to make 8. Drives me _nuts_. I also am still strongly in the camp that magic is not growing it’s base currently…and games like duelmasters and hecatomb aren’t helping that issue by much. DM is not doing well, and Hecatomb seems almost a non-entity.
    Anywho, I am going to stick with the rant that there must be some whay to bring new players into the fold. I mean new players too. Not canablizing other product lines….

  10. True story, swear to god: I saw two thirty-ish guys playing Magic Portal in a cafe in downtown Berkeley yesterday.

  11. I was introduced to D&D back in the 5th grade “mentally gifted” class. I played a dwarf rogue and had a blast, and later my parents bought me the “blue box” basic D&D set with the “into the unknown” mod in it.

    That made me a D&D player, but what made me a ‘gamer’ was probbaly MetaGaming’s Warpwar, which I picked up on my first foray into a game store looking for more D&D stuff.

  12. My entry into gaming came in two steps.

    First, when my two brothers and I were in elementary school, our neighbor (a guy a couple grades ahead of us) introduced us to D&D and was our DM. We kept up with gaming, though we didn’t have any other ‘gamers’ in school.

    Our full entry into gaming came in middle school. We moved to a new state and found a great liitle gaming store (The Tin Soldier in Dayton, OH). One of my brothers signed up for a customer-run Car Wars tournament held at the store. We ended up forming a very close-knit gaming group with four other kids we met at that tournament.

    The store had a space set aside for gaming and was willing to host events that didn’t shout ‘profit’. Since our new friends were a grade or two ahead of us, even though we went to the same school we might have never met if it wasn’t for the gaming store.

  13. A friend of mine bought some Space Marines from a local department store that had a toy section with model kits in. I got fascinated by finding the story behind these miniatures. This led me to White Dwarf. Several months later, a friend had a copy of the West End Star Wars RPG at the fencing club I went too – I’d never spoken to the guy before, but I went over and asked him whether the book he was reading was a roleplaying game. He invited me to a club in town, we played MERP. That was, ooh, seventeen years ago 🙂

  14. Chris, re: “always needing 8”, that’s a valid complaint. It’s not just Magic that does this.

    A lot of games won’t let a judge play, or require 2-3 backup judges in the room to oversee rules questions at the head judges table. While that is a lofty goal, I’ve played CCGs where I was the only one in the room who had competent command over all the rules, and if we had no backup judge, then I couldn’t play. And if I’m not paid to judge and can’t play, that’s not a huge incentive for me to judge. I don’t mind judging (for free) while playing. I hate judging to the exclusion of playing if I want to play.

    I personally think that the only thing that should be required for a sanctioned match is two players. Now, I can see not offering prize support to fewer than X players. That makes sense from a monetary standpoint, but I don’t know why sanctioned matches have to have 8 players to form a tournament.

    So, I concur, that that issue is a huge headache for sanctioned tournaments, particularly in smaller towns. Since Magic so strongly encourages sanctioned tournament play, people want to play in them, and people don’t want to play games for fun as much, unless they are played according the rules for one of the most common tournament types.

    This causes problems for me. I have thousands of Magic cards, but none recent. I can bring a deck of perfectly average power level (not way over the top), but because it’s got older cards in it, few people want to play with me for fun. They’ll gripe, “oh your deck has older broken cards in it”, even if I’m losing more than 50% of the time.

    Magic does a horrible job of encouraging new players to join, but it also does a horrible job of encouraging former Magic players to re-join. I just was saying that I strongly disagree that it is primarly because new players don’t have access to older cards. If anything, former players often can’t rejoin without spending thousands of dollars on newer card editions which will be out of the core tournament formats in 6-12 months.

    Now, Chris, I’d love to see a CCG actually make some money and be successful on the market where you didn’t A) have to have lots of old cards and B) didn’t have to spend thousands of dollars on cards to build succesful decks.

  15. Lee, I think we are in the same place, just using different verbage. Thanks for all your comments!

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